A self-guided walking tour of New York
New York is home to world-famous pizza, the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial, Times Square, Broadway, and so much more. This sprawling city is brimming with tourist attractions, many of which can be explored on foot. Whether you’re visiting New York City for the first time or you’re making your annual trip, you can cover many tourist spots on a self-guided walking tour.
All you need is a GPS-enabled smartphone for navigation and a good weather website or app to keep track of forecasts like today and tomorrow’s New York City weather. Since you will be touring on foot, staying informed about the weather will tell you when to embark on your self-guided walking tour of New York.
You’ll be walking a lot, so wear the right shoes, and be prepared to ride New York City subway and ferries. Remember to leave any heavy bags in your hotel (although a small backpack or tote bag (Tracy’s favorite) would be ideal to carry necessities) and wear comfy clothes.
We’ve rounded up some popular tourist spots, which you can explore over the course of one day. Let’s go!
Top of the Rock
Start your day around noon with a visit to the observation deck at Rockefeller Center, also known as Top of the Rock, at 50th street between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenues. Hours are 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily, and the last elevator goes up at 9:10 p.m. You’ll need to buy a ticket in-person or online, ranging from $32-$38.
The observatory spans from the 68th to the 70th floor of the Rockefeller Center and offers visitors a bird’s-eye view of the Big Apple. Looking at the city from above is a great way to start a walking tour.
You can grab breakfast or brunch depending upon the time of the day in various eateries in and around Rockefeller Center like Samesa, Fieldtrip, Black Seed Bagels, and Blue Bottle Coffee, among others.
St. Patricks’ Cathedral
S. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue is a two-minute walk from Rockefeller Center. This splendid cathedral is open to the public and free to visit. The iconic church is known for its vast space, gothic detailing, and beautiful stained glass.
Right across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the 45-feet high sculpture of Atlas, which makes for an attractive backdrop for an Instagram-worthy tourist picture.
New York Public Library
Walk south along Fifth Avenue, and you will reach the New York Public Library in about 10 minutes. The highlight of the library is the Beaux-Arts architecture and two massive lions guarding the entry. Movie buffs will recognize the building from the opening scene of the 1984 classic Ghostbusters and the tsunami scene from The Day After Tomorrow (2004).
Bibliophiles will appreciate the library as it houses rare books and documents. Some exhibits have included the handwritten final draft of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, and the Gutenberg Bible.
Grand Central Terminal
A 10-minute walk east on 41st Street with the library behind you and a left turn from Park Avenue will bring you to Grand Central Terminal. A visit to the terminal is a must to admire the grand architecture ––also in the Beaux Arts-style––and one of the city’s most spectacular buildings. Just like Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal also has its own dining concourse, where you can grab a bite, drink or rest for a while.
Exit Grand Central Terminal on the Lexington Avenue side and walk for five minutes to arrive at the Chrysler Building: one of New York’s most iconic skyscrapers. Just like the New York Public Library, this building has also been a part of countless movies and TV shows, including the iconic jump by Will Smith in Men In Black 3 (2012). The Chrysler Building was the tallest skyscraper in the US until the Empire State Building claimed the title in 1931.
Enter the subway station at the Grand Central side of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street and take the 4/5/6 subway towards Downtown & Brooklyn. You’ll need to buy a MetroCard from the subway station. Get off at the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop to arrive at the famous suspension bridge. Stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn, but stay in the walking lane to avoid accidents.
Exit the bridge on the left side to enter Brooklyn and arrive at Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). You should be able to see the Empire State Building straight down the middle of the street on a clear day. In the Old Fulton Ferry District, grab a burger from Shake Shack or ice cream from Ample Hills in Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you can also relax for a bit.
East River Ferry
Walk along the street until you reach Old Fulton Street to arrive at the Fulton Ferry Landing water’s edge to enjoy the stunning view of the Lower Manhattan skyline. From the Ferry Landing, purchase a one-way ferry ticket from the NYC Ferry vending machine and take the Pier 11/Wall St. Ferry.
Once you get off the ferry, head to the edge of Wall Street, which is a short walk. Here you can find a variety of sit-down lunch options like Westville, Sweetgreen, and La Colombe.
Wall Street refers to the institutions that steer the American financial system and is considered the symbol and hub of American capitalism. The street runs for eight blocks from Broadway to South Street. Any visit to New York is not complete without visiting the financial heart of the United States.
Some of the attractions here include the New York Stock Exchange, Trinity Church, the iconic Charging Bull statue (rub the horns and testicles for good luck in business and love life), and the Bowling Green park, which is along the street towards Broadway.
After you explore Wall Street, cross Bowling Green Park to arrive at the US Custom House and continue walking past it to reach the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry terminal is the best free way to enjoy the scenic view of the New York Harbor, Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. The ferry runs every 30 minutes and takes 25 minutes to reach Staten Island. Arrive before or after rush hour to avoid the crowds and take a seat on the right side of the ferry to enjoy the best view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island en route to Staten Island.
Once you reach Staten Island, you can either run around the corner to catch the next ferry back to Manhattan, explore St. George––the neighborhood nearest the ferry–– or wait 30 minutes for the next ferry back to the city.
Stone Street, the first paved cobblestone street in New York, is about five or ten minutes’ walk from the ferry terminal. This place is an excellent spot to grab an early dinner and drink in Lower Manhattan. The street is lined with several pubs and restaurants with communal outdoor seating for warmer weather. Try Stone Street Tavern or Adrienne’s Pizzabar.
From here, you can head towards the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the stunning Oculus at the World Trade Center––an architectural masterpiece and MTA transit hub that can connect you to almost anywhere in the city.
And if you’ve lost daylight by now, no worries. You’ve still managed to cover many popular attractions in the Big Apple, all in a day.
How was your self-guided walking tour of New York?
These sights are some of our favorites, but there’s so much more to discover on another day or trip. You’ll want to see the Empire State Building, Times Square, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Central Park, of course. And head to SoHo, the East Village, or West Village for brunch or dinner at some of the city’s best restaurants. There’s so much to see and do in New York’s five boroughs! Don’t forget about the Bronx and Queens.
But whatever you do, don’t pack too much into a single trip. New York will always be here. 🙂